July 22, 2024

Missing Bats: A special series in The Athletic

The greatness of baseball as we know it — all of its beauty, its charm, its mystery — is predicated on balance. Success pushing back against failure. Chance infringing upon skill. The hitter standing up to the pitcher, the only player who can start the chain of action that has entranced generations of fans.

That balance is so sacred to this sport that any disruption to it triggers backlash. There have been spasms of imbalance — the introduction of the live ball, or the power surge of the steroid era — but the game has endured because of the essential lesson taught by the hitter vs. pitcher confrontation: over time, things even out, and what’s left is reality.

But what happens when this equilibrium is upended, and it’s not just another anomaly that will run its course? What happens when this massive shift is the result of a sprawling industry devoting time and resources to a single idea that has since metastasized and profoundly reshaped the game? What if, despite new rules that aim to combat this problem, there is ultimately no going back?

Missing Bats, a special series this week in The Athletic, explores how baseball’s jarring metamorphosis over the last two decades traces back to one simple but powerful idea: the pitcher must make the hitter miss the baseball, and that this must be done at all costs.

Our series explores the origin of the idea, its rapid spread throughout the industry, the cultural change required for it to happen, the human toll of that transformation, the attempts to address it and what it all means going forward. Our team of journalists conducted dozens of interviews with players, coaches and executives intimately involved with this change, revealing a sport that has reshaped its own culture and harnessed cutting-edge tools that allowed pitchers to seize the balance of power. It’s never been harder to get bat on ball, all because pitchers have successfully rewired the game’s underlying DNA.

The symptoms of the shift are apparent every day: rising velocity, the prevalence of arm injuries, the cratering of offense. The change was so drastic that the lords of the sport met it with equally drastic action: the most significant alteration to baseball’s rules in decades. Much of it was done in the name of restoring this essential balance.

Will it be enough?

— Marc Carig, senior managing editor MLB, The Athletic

(Illustration: Eamon Dalton / The Athletic; Photo: Getty Images)